The US Has Been Exporting COVID-19 to Haiti; Now, It Is Returning a Death Squad Leader

Originally published by Jake Johnston, CEPR, May 05, 2020

Please see additional coverage in IJDH Raboteau Portal for more information on Raboteau Massacre Accountability, along with the Boston Globe, Senators Menendez and Durbin, Medecins Sans Frontieres, Representative Frederica S. Wilson, Jake Johnston, Cate Oswald, The New Yorker, Edwidge Danticat, Miami Herald (1, 2), The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Hill, and the Washington Post.

[Editor’s Note: The day after publication, the Miami Herald reported that Emmanuel Constant had been removed from the deportation flight. An updated version of the article, in Haitian Kreyòl, was published by Ayibopost.]

As the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down borders and airports across the world, planes chartered by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) continue to fly. Every two or three weeks, a deportation flight operated by Swift Air, LLC has landed at the Port-au-Prince airport. After one such flight in early April, at least three of those deported tested positive for COVID-19. The pandemic is now sweeping through ICE detention facilities, putting the lives of tens of thousands at risk and highlighting the public health ramifications of continued deportations.

Next week, another ICE Air deportation flight is scheduled to arrive in Haiti. But the controversy will extend far beyond the health and well-being of those on board. According to a flight manifest obtained by HRRWICE is planning to deport Emmanuel “Toto” Constant, a former death squad leader who has been in a New York state prison for the past 12 years on grand larceny and mortgage fraud charges. Constant is listed in the manifest as a “High Profile Removal.”

Continued deportations have presented an additional strain on an already overburdened public health system, as the Haitian government has been forced to use scarce resources to quarantine and care for the dozens who arrive every few weeks. In late April, a government-backed scientific commission supporting the country’s COVID-19 response asked president Jovenel Moïse to halt further deportations during the pandemic. Representatives of the Haitian government did not respond to a request for comment.

ICE has announced it will increase testing of deportees after pushback from regional governments but it is unclear how systematic the testing will be. ICE has stated that they would only receive about 2,000 tests per month – far below the estimated number of deportations. Nevertheless, the recent ICE changes have assuaged concerns from some countries in the region, which have been under increasing diplomatic pressure from the Trump administration to continue allowing ICE Air deportation flights. According to data compiled by CEPR, ICE has made at least 246 deportation flights since the beginning of February. After a brief respite, this week the pace of deportations has increased dramatically.

The Haitian government has pushed back on the deportations. Claude Joseph, the foreign minister, told the Miami Herald in April that he had been in communication with his counterparts in the US advocating for a moratorium on deportation flights. He said that the US had agreed to temporarily suspend the deportation of those with “criminal” backgrounds to avoid further crowding Haiti’s already overcrowded prison system. But, the US has thus far rejected an outright stop to the flights. A former Haitian government official said that there had been continued discussions around a moratorium of all flights. It appears that effort has failed.

On Monday, May 11, the next ICE Air deportation flight is scheduled to arrive in Port-au-Prince, according to the flight manifest. ICE identifies 51 of the flight’s 101 passengers as having criminal backgrounds. One of those is Constant, the 63-year old former death squad leader. ICE did not respond to a request for comment; the agency has a general policy of not commenting on future deportation flights. The flight manifest is a “tentative” list of passengers; it could still be changed before the flight.

Read the full article here.